“The sky begins to shimmer with the silver of brilliant star clusters, the eerie radiance of red and blue fluorescence. One huge moon, glowing gold, is soon joined by two others, much smaller, which slowly rise above the horizon, each jagged in shape as if carelessly formed. Night falls suddenly and completely, and we sit together in a glorious royal-blue world illuminated with silver. It is Mother who speaks, softly: ‘So lovely a world. . . is surely meant for women.’”
Late in the 22nd century, the settling of a new world falls on the strong shoulders of young Megan. The perfect leader, she undertakes to guide her sisters to a new planet, free from the shackles of the brutal Earth regime. Negotiating politics in a society of women is second only to securing their safety. When a landing party of men and women discover their colony Megan must decide if the outsiders will live or die. And that includes Lt. Laurel Meredith, whose disturbing beauty is as dangerous to Megan as her people are to Megan's world.
I have enjoyed many of Katherine Forrest's books. They are always thought provoking and enjoyable. This book was no exception. I enjoyed the plot and the fact that the women involved were self sufficient and sought out their own world so they could live the lives they wanted to live. The courage they displayed in going to a new world and bucking the odds was inspiring. The sacrifices they had to make really requires the reader to look inside themselves to see what they are made of. All of the characters had depth and were relatable. I want to know when the next ship is headed to Maternas, sign me up. If you like strong women, sci-fi, fantasy, adventure and romance, you will not want to miss this book.
The idea to smuggle Mother off Verna III came to Father when Jed Peterman fell down a hill of keteraw and proceeded to smother in a pile of mutherac, managing to do this in spite of all his training and thorough briefings on the planet’s topography. Father, his crew chief, found him, and in disgust kicked him further down the hill, starting an avalanche which buried poor Peterman forever.
Why would Father risk years of severe punishment to bring an alien to Earth? Mother looked like one of the Sirens of Earth legend. Glossy dark silken hair reached to her voluptuous hips and covered cantaloupe-sized breasts. As if that wasn’t enough to capture a young Earthman there were her extraordinarily beautiful eyes—the color of pure emerald. And Mother, an inexperienced Vernan child of only forty-five, was enthralled with Father’s virility and willing to go with him anywhere.
Father cut Mother’s hair to collar length and concealed her remarkable eyes in gray infra-protect lenses. Judicial application of plastisculpt coarsened her nose and chin and ears. The barest touch of a surgiscope knife added temporary lines around her eyes and mouth. Still, his plan would never have worked except for the flappy tents the space crews wear which hid Mother’s cantaloupes.
Exercising his authority as crew chief, Father accused “Peterman” of violating Earthcode MCLVIII—sexually harassing a female alien, a misdemeanor—and imposed a sentence of solitary confinement for the duration of the return trip to Earth. Of course, only Mother’s days were solitary.
Upon arrival on Earth, poor “Peterman” vanished, AWOL from the Service. And Father took Mother to the pleasure capital of Vega where he married her. So long as she did not have to be fingerprinted or have her blood tested she could easily pass as an Earth female, albeit spectacularly endowed; and given her extreme youth it was unlikely that she would face exposure through medical discovery for many years. Perhaps by then, Father reasoned, the laws would have changed. And so Mother and Father set up housekeeping in Calivada.
Mother did have her idiosyncracies. She made noises at night—sometimes like the klaxxon warning of a fluorocarbon alert, sometimes reminiscent of nineteenth century War-whooping Indians. She was by now pregnant and since Vernan babies become conscious in the womb after the first month, the first words I heard were from Father, grumbling during one of her spectacular effusions: “Great Calvin Coolidge, can’t you hold that down a little? Everyone in the neighborhood knows what we’re doing.”
“A Payrungasmad curse on the neighbors. Can you do that again, dear?”
Father was furious when he learned of her pregnancy. “Great James Garfield, how could you let that happen!” he bellowed. “We’ve been married only six weeks! You said you’d take ovavoid!”
“No I didn’t, you just gave me the pills,” Mother informed him coolly. “I did what all Vernan females do when their males leave it up to them. Each time before we made love I concentrated hard and thought negative thoughts.” She shrugged. “Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.”
For a while Father screamed incoherently, then asked in a hoarse voice, “Why didn’t you take the pills? Why why why?”
“Those things have never been perfected in three hundred years! Imagine what they’d do to a Vernan. At least we don’t have to worry about birth control for a while, dear,” she said seductively. “Isn’t that good?”
Father, who was accustomed to adjusting swiftly to emergencies in space, had calmed down somewhat. But he said plaintively, “What do we do now? How can I take you to a med station to have our baby? I’ll have to find someone, pay a huge bribe. Then worry about blackmail. Maybe I can think of a way to smuggle you back to Verna-Three.”
“Don’t worry,” Mother said. “I’ll manage.”
Meanwhile, reports of Mother’s foibles had spread throughout the district, especially after she daily emptied tea leaves from the vacuum tubes and explained to a curious neighbor that she always sprinkled tea leaves on her floors, tannic acid being wonderful for the disposition. And when another astonished neighbor watched Mother pluck choice leafy tidbits from the front hedge and eat them for her lunch, Father realized that even in Calivada Mother was a bit too outré. So he hustled her off to an isolated but fully mechanized farmhouse near the border. She did not mind in the least; pregnant Vernan women crave solitude. She spent much of her time telescanning Earth’s history and culture and learning agronomy and hydroponics, which she realized we would soon need.
Vernans do not require an interminable nine months for gestation; mother and baby work together to make things much more efficient. And so five months later, Mother gave birth. It took about an hour for us to be born, one by one.
“Great Ulysses Grant!” Father screamed, tearing at his hair. “It’s a goddamn litter!”
“It’s all your doing,” Mother retorted, more than a little miffed. “The male determines the number. That’s how it is on Verna. The more sperm, the more chance for more eggs to be fertilized. And Geezerak knows you’re a regular sperm factory.”
“Great Woodrow Wilson, how could I know that,” Father said shakily as Vesta and I were born, the last two, bringing the grand total to nine, all of us girls.
“One Y chromosome,” Mother grumbled at him. “You couldn’t spare even one Y chromosome.”
“Never again!” hollered Father. “No ovavoid pills, no more you know what!”
“Suit yourself. You could take them yourself, you know. I’ll be sore for a day or two, anyway. And lower your voice,” Mother said as we all began to wail, “you’re disturbing the girls.”
In a voice shaking with horror Father said, “Clothes! Great Herbert Hoover, clothes for nine girls!”
“I’ll manage,” Mother said.
“How will you ever take care of them?”
“I’ll manage,” Mother said.
“Even choosing names for nine girls!”
Mother said distractedly, fastening liquiblots to each of us, “The girls and I settled on that before they were born.”
“What!” Father shrieked.
Frightened by him, I began to cry. “There there, Minerva,” Mother cooed, picking me up. “Dear,” she said to Father, “it’s a…strong communication. It’s gone, now that they’re born. I can’t really explain. Anyway, males never understand how it is between mothers and babies.”
“What have I wrought,” Father whispered, tiptoeing away.
Little did he know.
* * *
Isis was the first of us to indicate special gifts. When she was eight, Mother discovered that she had full comprehension of a teleclass in spatial calculus. I had already chosen my specialty—history—and was able to explain to my family that mathematical genius usually manifests itself quite early. It was then that Mother warned us all to be careful, that our family could not afford the bright light of publicity. Isis, soon bored with calculus, entertained herself by plotting stock market curves.
Thanks to Mother’s agronomy and hydroponics expertise, the farm had become virtually self-sufficient, and Father and Mother managed to conceal our existence for quite a while. After that, although the nine of us drew attention, we had grown at very different rates and were physically dissimilar. To our chagrin, we had inherited more of Father’s build than Mother’s; but fortunately, we had also acquired fingerprints.
Father spent more and more time away, volunteering for missions of six months and longer duration, coming home for a few weeks of loving attention from Mother, then blasting off again. It was hard to blame him. During his time home nine squealing little girls climbed all over him, but he was frustrated in his attempts to enjoy us; he was unable to win so much as a game of gin rummy or any other game of skill by the time we were six. Hera knew more about the space ships he flew than he did by the time she was eleven. He was less and less able to participate even in dinner table discussions of any kind.
As we turned sixteen, Father had been gone for more than a year. A beribboned representative from the Service visited, gazed at us in astonishment, then broke the news that Father had been last seen pursuing a fellow crewman in a shuttle craft and had vanished near a black hole.
“He was a hero,” said the representative.
Hera, by now an expert in astrophysics, said through her tears, “If he’d just known to set the coordinates for—”
Mother sobbed loudly and stamped on Hera’s foot.
The representative went on to explain Mother’s survivor benefits. “Rough going, supporting such a big family,” he said sympathetically. “Even with generous benefits.”
Mother dried her tears. “I’ll manage.”
The stock prognostications of Isis were now invaluable. Mother’s investments financed travel and advanced educations for us all.
Once we completed our home-based education and ventured out into the world we thought it would be more difficult to hide our gifts, especially when we all performed spectacularly well scholastically, and later, professionally. But we had one overwhelming advantage: We were women. Scant significance was attached to any of our accomplishments.
It was Diana, now a geneticist, and Demeter, a meditech, who made the first great contribution to our future. They discovered through experimentation that most Vernan genes are dominant and consequently mutation-resistant.
“It’s why you had girls,” Diana explained to Mother. “You couldn’t have had a male no matter what.”
Venus, our biologist, joined in further research. Additional experiments showed that our life expectancy was thirty years longer than an Earth male’s; that unlike Mother who was pure Vernan, we were more likely to bear only two or three babies at most at one time, all girls; and that they would inherit the intellectual capacity of their mothers.
Selene the poet and Olympia the philosopher made the final valuable contributions, documenting and forecasting the continuing irrationality of Earth beliefs, customs, and mores, and clearly demonstrating the need for concern—and change.
We have just completed a week-long meeting of extraordinary scope, and have made our plans.
We will all marry. We will all have as many births as our individual situations allow. And pass the word on to our daughters.
Isis has shown that if we have multiple births, and succeeding generations continue at that rate, exponentially there will soon be a female population explosion.
And we are perfectly concealed. Men will continue to notice us only for their sexual and nesting needs—which is what we want them to do. And by the time they observe that there has been an astonishing number of births of baby girls, it will be much too late.
I am Minerva the historian, and this is the first chapter of our saga…
Our Unity has assembled where we could not possibly be noticed—in an inland area of Southeast Calivada bearing the glorious history of having been a gunnery range, a nuclear testing site, a missile base, then a late twentieth century disposal for nerve gas and nuclear waste, which despite government denials did indeed, according to Hera, achieve critical mass in the year 2160, disintegrating even the sagebrush within a seventeen hundred mile radius. The site is perfect. But to further guarantee our secrecy and privacy we have posted bright graphics around the perimeter: WARNING—PARALYTIC FOAM TESTS IN PROGRESS.
We are six thousand now—precisely six thousand two hundred and forty-one, according to Isis—a three point seven average birth rate adjusted for a miniscule death rate…to which I have contributed far more than my fair share.
Some have chosen to camp out amid the scouring desert winds, but most of us are sensibly comfortable in the dome which was dropped into place and inflated by the resourceful Kendra and her transport crew, and then air spray painted to resemble ancient and blackened bomb craters.
It has been a time of exhilaration: The five generations of our Unity are together. We are but eight original children now; Selene died many years ago deep-sea diving off Antarctica. And I am consoled by my hundreds of descendants—of myself, and my four daughters, who to my great and abiding grief perished along with their father in the great transport collision that took the lives of so many in ’72.
This meeting of the Unity is, of course, Mother’s idea.
“No later than one month from now,” she had informed us, smiling from the lumiscreen and adding, “No kidding, this is urgent.” She had just moved from the carnival city of Rio to the monument city of Omaha, and had been amusing herself scanning twentieth century television tapes.
“Mother, do you have any idea of the logistics?” Hera demanded. Even when we were children she had been the only one of us to dare challenge Mother. “Bringing our six thousand together in a safe and private—”
“I know you girls can manage,” Mother said serenely, and switched off.
I know you girls can manage. We had heard that phrase all the days of our childhood. And still we were girls to Mother.
But as always she was right. We managed.
We came from everywhere, many of us extricating ourselves from personal and professional entanglements. Some came from the orbital space stations, dozens more from the planetary development settlements. None were in deep space now—the Federated Governments had again conditioned acceptance of women into the Service based upon waiver of privacy rights.
On this first day there was continuous blending and co-mingling of us in colorful pulsing currents, a babel of excited conversation and joyous laughter as we exulted in being together. We were women with the shared experience of stretching toward excellence, and we celebrated ourselves. Some blending and co-mingling extended well into the night; our sleeping modules were of styroplast, makeshift and far from soundproof.
Accompanied by Mother who was also wakeful, I strolled through the darkened compound late this night. The soft moans and choked sounds of ecstasy from all around us evoked memory in me. After my devastating personal tragedy I had found the dearest woman on Earth, who had healed much of my pain and left me herself only in death; and after that there had been other variously rewarding liaisons, the most recent with a veritable child of twenty-five, who had gone on to another; but the unexpected joy of five years with her had left only gratitude in me, not grief. My sisters had followed a path similar to mine, all of them finding later-life relationships with loving women.
“Six thousand I’ve spawned,” Mother grumbled, “and I’m the only heterosexual left.” She took my arm. “I’ll go back to my quarters now, dear. Tomorrow is a day of great decision.”